[I’m not the only one who had a problem getting this blog post sent. Last Monday was a failed upload on my part. Wednesday, WordPress had a bug and the post was sent only to a handful of people. I am resending the post and would like to apologize to those few who have already received this post. For you, please disregard this second sending. Thanks! – Warren]
Valentina stands in her hut, ankle deep in water. She endures this every time it rains and, in Panamá, the rainy season showers water almost daily. Valentina lives on Gardi Sugdub Island, one of the more than 300 islands which make up the San Blas Islands off Panamá’s Caribbean coast. One hundred of these are inhabited.
These islands are home to about 28,000 people of the Guna tribe. They know the islands as Guna Yala, a region which brought revolution in 1925 to this archipelago to establish independence from Panamá. They exist under their own constitution and governmental authority. However, their future is in peril.
According to a United Nation’s study, the San Blas Islands have lost 11 inches of land over the last 50 years; today, that loss is over 2 feet. This equals a loss of over 500 square feet on Valentina’s island. This is all due to climate change and glacier melting. Gardi Sugdub Island is a mere 3.7 acres with a population of about 2,000 people. Every square inch, except for walking paths, is covered with ramshackle huts the Guna call home.
The coral reefs outside the island have been a natural barrier against rising water. Time has caused these reefs to erode, while the Guna have also chipped away at these reefs to use at the edge of their land to increase its size. Now the wind and storms cause the island to flood. There is no long-term future for these islands. It is thought that they will be underwater in the next few decades.
The residents of Gardi Sugdub began planning for this in about 2008. They have 40 acres on the mainland which they have wanted to develop for their village in exile. Since they have no money, they have turned to the Panamanian government and other outside sources to develop their land. The plans call for a school, a health center, and 300 homes. According to the NGO Displacement Solutions of the Netherlands, this development has been slow to take shape. It was started, then stopped, and no date for completion is scheduled.
Those of Gardi Sugdub are to be commended for trying to take control of their future. They have served as a model for some of the other islands. Yet, most of the islanders have not come to grips with the severity of their problem. Valentina continues to live with the flooding. She hopes to outlive the problem or for it to be solved and provide her a dry home.
Fact: Panamá’s narrowest point is 50 miles, allowing viewing of both oceans at once.
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